PEGIDA march in Dresden

 Sabine Volk

In spring 2016, the German nationalist movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) founded a coalition together with nationalist and xenophobic movements and parties from other European countries. Their alliance, the so-called Fortress Europe (read also “Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe”), poses a theoretical paradox: how is it possible that nationalist groups work together at a European level?

Historical analysis shows that transnational collaboration between right groups is not a new phenomenon. First, one might think of the (attempts of) collaboration by the fascist parties from various European countries in the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, a visible manifestation of right-wing collaboration consists in coalition-building in the European Parliament (EP). Fortress Europe is thus yet another example of how even nationalists can unite at supranational level. What ideology binds the contemporary right-wing groups together?

At first sight, blunt Islamophobia is the common ground for right-wing transnational collaboration in contemporary Europe. The fear of “Muslim invasion” was not only eponymous for the German Pegida movement, but is expressed in all their publications and at their demos.

What’s more, right-wing groups constantly evoke a mystic common ancestry of all Europeans. When Fortress Europe speaks of the “European peoples” with their “common European roots, traditions and values,” their discourse strikingly reminds of the writings by the French right-wing intellectual Alain De Benoist. De Benoist is regarded as the founding father of an ideology called ethno-pluralism.

Alain De Benoist


According to ethno-pluralism, the world is separated in distinct cultural communities. These communities are pictured as internally homogeneous and externally closed, impermeable territorial entities. The mixing of members originating from different cultural communities is perceived as a threat for cultural tradition, purity, and identity. Therefore, differences between the incommensurable cultural communities should rather be maintained.

Officially, ethno-pluralist thinkers reject the idea of a hierarchy between different cultures, but claim them to be of equal worth. In Fortress Europe’s rhetoric, however, “European culture” is clearly depicted as superior, especially vis-à-vis “Muslim culture” (“Scharia paradises”). This depiction is not really surprising. In 2003 already, researcher Alberto Spektorowski criticized ethno-pluralism for promoting a form of European cultural nationalism.

It does not seem far-fetched to establish that in ethno-pluralism, an essential and fundamentalist understanding of culture replaces the race category used in the older fascist discourse. The aim of introducing the cultural category remains the same as in traditional racist thinking: the strict exclusion and degradation of a certain group of people. It is apparent that ethno-pluralism serves the European New Right as a mere disguise for racism. One should thus be aware that although the rhetoric of contemporary right-wing groups may lack overtly racist vocabulary, their ideas remain the same.

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The Euroculturer Recommends:

For more Muslims in Europe, read Julia Mason’s wonderful discussion of the Burkini ban here

For more on right-wing extremist groups, read Eric Hartshorne’s excellent dissection of extremist groups here

If you want to learn more about European identity politics, read about the EU Ireland-Apple tax ruling and its effect on Irish politics here